Have you ever had those moments in teaching when a comment or action from a student will send your lesson into an entirely new direction? One of those moments when you realize that you almost missed the forest for the trees, but on a whim you followed an impulse and it turned out better than you could have ever expected?
Well that happened to me last week!
I was right in the middle of introducing new and reviewing known instruments to my 3rd grade class. I had a blank instrument family chart on my white board and I asked students to come up and write the name of a known instrument on the board in the appropriate family. The students had written down all that they could remember, flute, clarinet, bassoon, oboe (thanks to Peter and the Wolf which had been fully explored in Kinder and 1st grade.) and I was starting to augment the list to include some instruments that they were not as familiar with…..My plan was to build the chart and then watch short video clips as we moved from one family to the next…… The application and aural identification was to happen in a later lesson….. ….. On this day I was presenting the lesson to a reasonably responsive class, even though some were passive, everyone was at least politely attentive.
I wrote down piccolo and realized suddenly that I was having a brain freeze and couldn’t remember if I was spelling it correctly or not. Since I had asked my students to copy the chart we were creating for themselves, I wanted to make doubly sure that I was spelling everything correctly. I walked over to a text book, quickly turned to the instrument glossary in the back and corrected my spelling……. I was JUST about to go on when I noticed that the entire class had followed my lead and reached underneath their seats and retrieved their textbooks! Without being asked!!!!!!
It quickly became clear that my students were FACINATED by the glossary!!!!! Sooooo I slowed down, jumped off of my agenda and onto theirs…… I guided them through the process of using a glossary. We researched instruments of all sorts for the rest of the class using only an 8 page instrument glossary…. After my students had researched the instruments on their own, the quick video clips that I had decided to use had so much more meaning and usefulness.
Remember the woodwind family? Well after I had mentioned the piccolo, they found the saxophone in the glossary. They gleefully added it to our list and then were dismayed to discover that in the BBC woodwind video we watched, the saxophone was not a featured instrument….. Imagine how much fun it was to explain to my 3rd graders a little of the history of the development of the modern orchestra and the inclusion or exclusion of the saxophone…… By the time we got to the percussion instruments they were really into their self appointed task of finding new instruments……. My favorite discussion that I overheard was the rather heated debate about whether or not a piano was a string instrument or a percussion instrument……
Three things are true……
1. Even though after that class I made sure to include the glossary as part of our resources, the class discussion wasn’t always as in depth or as interested…..and yet…… in every class I had students commenting on how much they had enjoyed the lesson and ask if we could get out the glossaries again for our next lesson……Not an everyday occurrence…..
2. I almost missed it! At this time of year I get so focused on not missing things I almost missed VERY important learning. My favorite answer became, “What does the definition say?” or, “Based on the picture, what you’ve read and what you’ve heard, what do you think?”
3.I should never forget that to this often media addicted generation of students we get to teach, a simple song, story or book holds all of the novelty and fascination that we THINK we are creating by oversaturating them with media and technology. Honestly, when I reflect on this lesson, I think the reason why they liked it so much was because the pictures in the book were STILL and they could examine them and take the time to read and discuss…… I wanted to and did incorporate very short video clips into my lessons because they were excellent performances…. However, video, even well done video is ALWAYS passive. Without the bedrock of their own active research my lessons would have been pleasant examples of polite passivity rather than eager learning. Books and in this case plain old note taking are the ultimate interactive technology!